Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine, authors of In the Small Kitchen are masters of entertaining on a budget. They've figured out an ingenious equation to keep their self-proclaimed "dirt cheap dinners" from seeming, well, cheap.
This recipe for Polenta Steaks with Asparagus Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, and Burrata incorporates a few high-end ingredients (burrata, asparagus, and pine nuts) into an otherwise budget-friendly meal, making for plates that look much spendier than they actually are.
The dish begins with polenta "steaks," slabs of chilled polenta that are cut into wedges and fried crisp with a little olive oil. Next comes a mild asparagus-mint pesto made from the stems of blanched asparagus that's dolloped atop the crispy polenta steaks. Cherry tomatoes tossed in salt and olive oil get scattered on top, and the plates are finished with torn bits of creamy burrata and the reserved asparagus tips.
This dish comes in at about $3 a person. It marries high and low price-tagged ingredients to create the illusion of a much fancier meal.
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of In the Small Kitchen to give away this week.
Reprinted with permission from In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine. Copyright © 2011. Published by William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
- For the polenta:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for the baking dish
- 2 cups polenta or coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 quart water or chicken stock
- 1 quart milk
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Olive oil
- For the pesto:
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- For the topping:
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 pound burrata or mozzarella cheese, coarsely torn
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
Butter a 9 × 13-inch baking dish, and set it aside.
In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, bring the water and milk to a boil. Add the polenta in a gentle stream, whisking as you pour. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to whisk the polenta until it has thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and salt, and continue to whisk until most of the liquid has evaporated, about3 minutes. Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish, and smooth it with a spatula to make an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Cut the polenta into 12 “steaks,” and pat each one dry with a paper towel (there may be some condensation from the fridge).
Brush both sides of each polenta steak with olive oil. Place the steaks on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tops have browned.
Meanwhile, prepare the pesto: Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus in two batches until bright green and just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to an ice bath, or put them in a colander and rinse under cold water. Drain.
Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Put 2 cups of the stalk pieces in a small food processor, reserving the tips. Add the mint, garlic, lemon juice, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt, and pulse. Add 1/3 cup water, and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of pesto. Mix in the Parmesan, and taste for seasoning.
Place the reserved asparagus tips in a mixing bowl, and toss with the tomatoes, burrata, olive oil, and salt.
To serve, place a warm polenta steak in the center of each plate, and top it with a generous dollop of pesto and a spoonful of the cherry tomato topping.